Business Technology

Monday 24 June 2019

Volkswagen reckons it'll be sucking diesel with next-generation chargers

SATURDAY INSIGHT

Powering up: An artist’s impression of a VW charger of the future which will consist of a 360 kw-hour battery that can serve enough electricity for as many as 15 EVs, in about 17 minutes for each one
Powering up: An artist’s impression of a VW charger of the future which will consist of a 360 kw-hour battery that can serve enough electricity for as many as 15 EVs, in about 17 minutes for each one
In charge: John Malone’s Liberty Capital, which owns Virgin Media, is to test using its existing cable ducts for EV chargers

Itamar Orlandi

Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations will have to become a lot better at what they do, and a lot more common, if the boom in electric vehicles is to happen, according to BloombergNEF's latest Watchlist.

The latest projects show the right questions are being asked by an ever greater number of contenders for this potentially huge market.

Volkswagen plans to produce EV fast charging stations capable of powering as many as four cars at the same time. It certainly has reason to make EV charging work, given its plans to sell 2-3 million EVs by 2025.

A station consists of a 360 kilowatt-hour battery that can serve enough electricity for as many as 15 EVs, in about 17 minutes for each one, with a maximum power output of 100kw. When it is depleted, it is either replaced, or - more likely - charged through a standard 30kw AC grid connection.

VW's stations appear to address two important challenges for EV charging infrastructure: the risk of demand overwhelming the grid power supply, which they solve with batteries, and the need to install stations quickly and cheaply, which they resolve by shipping their units ready-made, so saving on installation costs and time. Eventually, the design could tap into a growing fleet of second-life batteries to reduce peak demand and manage charging.

The company has not disclosed the economics of the EV charging stations. It also is not clear whether Volkswagen expects these stations will constantly be moved around, and who would do that, or whether they are technically mobile but would mostly be used as stationary charging stations.

Meanwhile, Liberty Global, chaired by billionaire John Malone, which owns Virgin Media, will test using its existing cable ducts that run underneath residential streets for kerbside EV chargers, the 'Financial Times' reported on January 28. Liberty wants to know whether its street furniture and infrastructure could support EV slow charging.

Its existing assets include fibre networks and utility cabinets on streets, which are already supplied with electricity. The trial is getting funding from the UK's innovation agency.

Elsewhere, other companies got there first. Deutsche Telekom said it will retrofit 12,000 of its 380,000 cable cabinets in Germany for EV charging, as part of a wider offering that includes fast charging stations and a flat-fee charging tariff. This system also makes installation cheap and quick. In addition, offering ubiquitous slow charging or small top-ups to people without a driveway may mean demand for fast chargers isn't so strong.

Finally, AFC Energy, an industrial fuel-cell company, earlier this month deployed its first so-called CH2ARGE EV charger at the BBC's 'Top Gear' test track, following 10 years of R&D, and successfully charged a BMW i8 with locally generated electricity from hydrogen.

A small-scale fuel cell generates electricity that goes through an inverter and from there to the charger. The system is supported by a 48-volt battery pack that helps meet power demand peaks.

It is designed for so-called destination charging in places like shopping centres or petrol stations. Fast EV chargers can certainly stretch the capacity of the distribution grid, and generating or storing energy near the charger can help alleviate that problem.

If that energy comes from clean sources, such as solar or hydrogen produced with renewable energy, car owners could also claim that their vehicles run entirely on fossil-free electricity.

But AFC Energy seems to be taking a pretty standard approach to destination charging, and innovates just in the source of electricity.

Hydrogen for that function is not only generally more expensive than electricity from the grid or distributed solar, but in this configuration also requires someone to deliver more hydrogen after about 140 cars have loaded up.

Bloomberg

Irish Independent

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